Capitol Updates

Friday, October 22, 2021

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NSEA Proposes $1,000 Bonus for Pre-K-12 School Employees

The NSEA believes federal funds distributed to the state of Nebraska as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 should be spent to recognize the exceptional work of our school employees. On Oct. 5, NSEA was invited to testify before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee for LR179, an interim study by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh to examine funding mechanisms in ARPA. We provided the following testimony:

“Since COVID disrupted our lives in the spring of 2020, school employees have taken on significant challenges to keep students learning and safe. As COVID hit, educators quickly pivoted from traditional lesson delivery to teaching through video classrooms. During the previous school year, many teachers found themselves preparing to deliver instruction simultaneously to both students in their classroom and students attending virtually – two very different methods of successful engagement.

This year, schools are struggling with a lack of substitute teachers and increasing numbers of school employees and students becoming ill. In addition, we have heard from our members that districts are not supplying the same number of masks and cleaning materials they had previously, causing teachers to dip into their own pockets to mitigate the spread of COVID.

The NSEA recommends that Nebraska use federal stimulus funds to provide a one-time, $1,000 bonus payment to every Pre-K-12 public-school teacher and all education support personnel in the state. The bonus provided would support stronger recruitment and retention of staff in and for these critical positions as well as acknowledge their additional work and sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, the Education Committee heard testimony on LR157, which outlined the tremendous problem school districts are having recruiting and retaining all teachers, especially minority teachers. Across the state, districts are struggling not only to staff classrooms with qualified educators, but also to fill positions for bus drivers, kitchen help, and paraprofessionals. This creates even greater stress on our current school employees as they take on additional teaching duties to minimize the impact on students.

These bonuses would help ensure these hard-working employees are recognized for their above-and-beyond efforts and sends a clear message that the state wants them to stay in public education for the benefit of the students they serve. It would compensate all public-school regular employees as defined in statute – from the teacher who found new ways to reach a classroom of students, to the bus driver who kept those students safe on the way to school.

Based on the most recent school employee reports for the state and Omaha pension systems, there are approximately 50,400 employees that would be covered statewide. The estimated amount for providing a $1000 bonus to all regular school employees would be $50.4 million, or if these were reduced to half that amount at $500, then approximately $25.2 million.

This proposal is not a new concept. Currently, other states such as Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, California, and Colorado are using federal stimulus funds to compensate school employees. As mentioned, Georgia is providing a one-time, $1,000 bonus payment to every K-12 public-school teacher and education support professional. It is using its state reserve portion of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal stimulus funds to provide these bonuses.

Educating our students during COVID has been a team endeavor and ALL the members of the education team should be recognized for their work. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

Recruiting More Minority Teachers & Administrators

LR157, a resolution introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, is an interim study to examine how Nebraska schools can recruit teachers and administrators who accurately reflect the proportion of students of color attending Nebraska schools. NSEA was invited to testify and provided the following information:

“First, why do we need more educators of color? There is a growing body of research demonstrating teachers of color provide benefits to all students, especially to students of color. For example:

Studies have found that teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color. Teachers’ influences include improved reading and mathematics test scores, improved graduation rates, and increased aspirations to attend college. One such study found that the benefit to Black students of having a Black teacher for just 1 year in elementary school can persist over several years, especially for Black students from low-income families.

Students of color also experience social-emotional and nonacademic benefits to having teachers of color, such as fewer unexcused absences and lower likelihoods of chronic absenteeism and suspension. Students of color and White students also report having positive perceptions of their teachers of color, including feeling cared for and academically challenged.

Teachers of color are a resource for students in hard-to-staff schools. Many teachers of color report feeling called to teach in low-income communities of color, positions that are often difficult to fill. Indeed, three in four teachers of color work in the quarter of schools serving the most students of color nationally. Teachers of color play an important role in filling gaps in these schools, and whether they decide to remain in teaching has significant impacts on students of color.

The reasons for the difficulty in recruiting and retaining educators, and educators of color, are multi-faceted. There is no simple solution. The answers are complex and will need on-going, systemic support and coordination, and dollars, over an extended number of years to see results.

First, we need to support education as a career. The NSEA and the National Education Association have invested over $450,000 and thousands of staff hours in the recruitment and retention of teachers, focusing on teachers of color.  Nancy Burkhart, who you’ll hear from today, will describe the Educators Rising Program across Nebraska. Our association members, through their dues dollars, have paid for everything from shoes for students in competition, to leadership training, travel costs and sponsor stipends, growing the program from two high schools to over thirty-five. Without this crucial support, we wouldn’t have the success stories Nancy will tell you about and more.

The Educators Rising program needs to be deeper and wider. We must begin talking about education as a career in elementary schools and offer structured programs of support starting in junior high and continuing through high school. This work needs to be publicly funded, at the local and state level. School districts need to bargain stipends for Educators Rising sponsors -- just as they do for DECA, FBLA and other Career Tech student organizations.

We need more “grow-your-own” programs that provide support for paraprofessionals to receive their teaching certification. Many Education Support Professionals would make excellent educators, but they can’t afford both the tuition and the lack of income during student teaching.

We need to dismantle the barriers that divert too many potentially wonderful educators from our classrooms.

We need to eliminate the Praxis CORE as an entry requirement to teacher education.  Students who have already shown ability through the ACT and successful completion of college courses should not be facing an expensive test that has no bearing on their future career. In his recently completed study of teacher education in Nebraska, Dr. David Steiner, Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, stated:

Admissions tests are controversial: (1) they are expensive to take — particularly for multiple-time test-takers; (2) basic pedagogical tests, including the Praxis CORE, have not been shown to correlate with teaching effectiveness; and (3) they reproduce the inequality of prior access to strong education, thereby disadvantaging minority applicants at disproportionate levels. The Institute recommends that the Praxis CORE not be used as an entrance exam.

We need to provide more scholarships for students and better information on loan forgiveness. NSEA has been providing information to our members, but our students really need this information in high school and early in college to be making the right financial choices. We also need to align Nebraska policy with federal policy so that our educators aren’t denied this benefit. We recently heard from a 7th grade math teacher who couldn’t get loan forgiveness, even though she taught in a junior high, because Nebraska classified her as a K-8 elementary teacher.

Student teaching should be a paid experience. Chadron State College has worked with local school districts in an innovative program that allows student teachers to learn from master teachers while also providing intermittent assistance as substitute teachers. We need more of this kind of creative thinking!  Student teaching is a time-consuming endeavor that doesn’t allow for much, if any, additional employment. We need paid internships and residencies as other professions utilize.

We have a certification problem in Nebraska. Not only is the NDE certification office woefully backlogged, but we make it much too hard for a teacher who has not received their degree in Nebraska to teach in Nebraska. I knew a Teacher of the Year from Kansas with more than fifteen years of experience who could not get certified in Nebraska!  We need pathways to certification that continue to focus on the quality of the educator, not their path to preparation.

Once we have teachers in the classroom, they need to have STRONG programs of support; this is especially true for our new educators who have had their field experiences truncated by COVID. They need mentors and instructional coaches who can help them translate theory into practice. Again, with the help of the NEA, NSEA has invested over $300,000 in providing mentors and training for teachers across the state. This year we have partnered with Falls City and Raymond Central to pilot a seven-state instructional coaching and mentoring program led by national experts in teacher development. These types of programs need public funding to be scaled as an offering across the state.

While there are many more strings in this complex web, studies have shown that having more administrators of color will increase the number of teachers of color. Please know that NSEA will continue our commitment to this crucial endeavor, to uplift the education profession.”

Upcoming Interim Study Hearings

Friday, November 5, 2021

LR106 (Kolterman) Interim study to monitor underfunded defined benefit plans administered by political subdivisions as required by section 13-2402

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

LR105 (Kolterman) Interim study to examine the public employees' retirement systems administered by the Public Employees Retirement Board